Case Study: Industrial Automation (SCADA) and Web Application Integration for a Transloading and Logistics Provider

Client

Our client is a market leader in oil field logistics and transload services.  They own and manage a nationwide network of transload terminals where they store and move millions of pounds of bulk sand, crude, and other materials to and from trucks, railcars, silos, and other containers.  Their services are a critical element in the energy supply chain in North America.

One of the client’s transload terminals.

Problem

This transload company contracted with one of their clients to install 4 200 ft silos to store frac sand and more quickly process inbound and outbound loads from one of their facilities. The silo installation included a pit and bucket elevator system for unloading railcars, truck scales and gate valves for loading trucks, and an automation system to control all this equipment remotely from an onsite scale house.

The top of a silo, taken from an adjacent silo. This is part of a four pack. These silos are actually at a different location, but are built to the same specifications, and are nearly identical in appearance.

The facility is owned operated by the transload provider, but the silos would be owned by the client and used exclusively for their product. The silos were constructed because this was one of the busiest terminals in the region, with an extremely high volume of trucks.

The facility is located in a small town on one of its major thoroughfares, and the long line of trucks waiting to be loaded had caused traffic blockage for the entire town, much to the annoyance of local residents.

The silos were designed to be managed using an piece of industrial automation software called a SCADA (short for “supervisory control and data acquisition”). This significant investment in mechanical equipment and software promised to increase throughput for the terminal. However, since the SCADA was provided by their client, the transload company had no control over the software, and limited access to its data.

The silos have a bucket conveyor system which carries product from ground-level, up to the top of the installations and deposits it in the appropriate silo with these conveyor legs.

Our client has a custom terminal management application, which we helped them build, and which manages inventory, bills of lading, transload billing, and all other aspects of on-site terminal operations. It also feeds data to report systems used by management and customers to make strategic decisions.

A view of the silo installation from below. The silos are just under 200 ft tall.

Any loads into and out of the silos needed to be tracked in the terminal management application in order to maintain accurate inventory, and to generate correct bills of lading. Additionally, the terminal management application needed to feed data into the SCADA system about the trucks being loaded through the silos, to ensure the correct product was loaded on each truck.

Solution

The SCADA system implemented at this site had limited integration capabilities. However, it was configured to write out a log of trucks unloaded and railcars loaded to a local MySQL database, in two separate tables. The system also had the ability to consume an XML feed of incoming trucks.

We had previously built the client a custom microservice service in Node.JS. It ran on an appliance installed at each of their facilities, and collected data from truck scales, interfacing with the terminal management application in the cloud through a REST API.

We modified this service, adding a microservice to provide the XML feed the SCADA required, pulling data from the terminal management application. We also added a service which would repeatedly poll the SCADA database for new and updated records in the relevant tables. Any new loads would be translated to the format required by the terminal management system’s REST API, and forwarded to that system, in as close to real time as possible.

Drafts loaded using the silo automation system are automatically imported into PropLogistics, and show up on the loading screen here.

Result

This project had a very tight deadline but we were able to execute quickly and deploy our solution within just a few days. Our client’s operators on-site were able to run the automation system and load trucks far more quickly, increasing throughput while decreasing traffic.

The automation system received the truck and product data it needed to correctly assign products. The operations team was able to generate bills of lading through the terminal management application, utilizing all the optimizations already present in that system.

Since all load and unload events occurring at the silos were automatically logged in the terminal management application, they were able to track inventory without manual double entry, saving time and avoiding errors.

The transload provider was able to exceed expectations for their client, and the terminal became the most productive site in the client’s entire logistics network.

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